Articles - A Canoeing & Kayaking Guide to the River Wye

Guide to Canoeing & kayaking on the River Wye
Guide to Canoeing & kayaking on the River Wye
Canoe & Kayak UK Editorial - Posted on 26 Jun 2012
The wonderful River Wye is part of British canoe & kayak paddling heritage. It’s meandering and occasionally tumbling waters, flowing through idyllic countryside and spectacular wooded valleys are a delight to explore by canoe and kayak. It’s the perfect setting for a river trip and thousands of people take their first paddle stokes in a canoe or kayak every summer. Here’s our guide to the best sections of this classic canoe & kayak touring river…

The River Wye is the fifth-longest river in the UK and just like its bigger neighbour, the River Severn it rises on the Welsh mountain Plynlimon before flowing through the Welsh marches and on in to England (for part of its lower course it actually acts as the border between the two countries). Along its route it travels through many towns and villages including Rhayader, Hay-on-Wye, Hereford, Ross-on-Wye, Symonds Yat, Tintern (with its historic abbey) and Monmouth. As it was born alongside the Severn so it once again rejoins it, 153 miles later, as it eventually flows out in to the Severn Estuary at Chepstow. The River Wye itself is a ‘Site of Special Scientific Interest’ and one of the most important rivers in the UK for nature conservation. Much of its lower valley is also designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Natural History
Thanks to William Gilpin and his book ‘Observations on the River Wye’, which was published in 1770, the Wye Valley became an irresistable draw for eager visitors and became the birthplace of British tourism, as we know it today. The area is steeped in history, it witnessed the beginnings of the industrial revolution and there are signs of man, near the famous Symonds Yat, that date back to nearly 15,000 years ago! It’s home to a wealth of rare fauna and flora too. Peregrine falcons and goshawks patrol the skies and deer and wild boar inhabit the woodlands.

We’ve broken the river down in to its three most popular and picturesque sections. In its upper reaches there is some really nice paddling and even higher-grade whitewater really high up, but unfortunately its popularity as an angling river means that access is often fraught. That’s no reason not to paddle it if you fancy though, but it’s the Wye’s beauty as a touring river that we’re interested in here, and from Glasbury down there is undisputed public access until the confluence with the Severn. There’s also descent paddling from Monmouth, which takes in Tintern, all the way down to Chepstow, but the river is wide and often shallow and weed strewn, so we’ve opted to leave that out too.

Glasbury to Hay-on-Wye to HerefordCanoeing & kayaking on the River Wye At Glasbury
Distance: 30-miles
Time: Two days
The Wye from Glasbury is perfect for family trips and those looking for a gentle touring trip with serene surroundings. The river is mostly flat but there are a few small riffles and faster flowing sections to add a bit of excitement. After about five miles you’ll come to the lovely Hay-on-Wye, famous for its bookstores, and known as the Book Capital of the UK, tourists come from all over the world too. It’s a great place to spend a few hours and good spot to finish if you just fancy a short jaunt on the river. If you’re planning on paddling all the way to Hereford then you’ll need to pick a spot to stay overnight. There’s a good pub at Whitney-on-Wye and a few descent campsites within this stretch.

Hereford to Ross-on-Wye

Distance: 23-milesCanoe & kayak hire on the river wye
Time: One to two days
This section is usually less popular and very quiet. It flows in big meanders and the countryside is more open than the lower wooded sections. Just after you start look out for Hereford’s Cathedral on your left. The paddling is gentle and relaxing in nature and it’s a fantastic section for a family weekend trip and to practice those canoeing and kayaking skills. If you’re experienced and fit you might want to paddle the whole section in a single day, but our advice would be to take your time and savour the slower pace of life that this section of the Wye provides. We guarantee that you’ll feel the stresses and strains of daily life literally draining away with every dip of your paddle. There’s plenty to see too, including the derelict Wye Invader, a 150-foot Dutch barge originally floated upstream to become a floating restaurant, but now left beached and unwanted. It’s an interesting but somewhat forlorn sight. The dramatic red sand stone cliffs just above Holme Lacey, perched itself on a cliff, are definitely worth a photo or two.

Just below here is a campsite with a handy shop, should you wish to buy snacks or drinks, or even pitch up for the night. The usual overnight stop for this section though is Hoarwithy where there are two campsites to choose from, and even more importantly a rather fine village pub in the shape of the New Inn.

In the morning, once you’ve shaken off the joys of the New Inn and cooked up breakfast it’s time to take to the Wye again and complete the trip to Ross on Wye. The paddling continues in the same vane as the river weaves its way downstream. Just after you get back on you’ll pass under the Sellack suspension footbridge, so don’t forget to wave to any walkers overhead!

Finally you’ll come to Ross on Wye. Ross is bustling with pubs and nice restaurants but the take out just past the rowing club is right by the Riverside Inn.

If you’ve opted run the whole section in a day with the intention of doing the Ross to Symonds Yat section the following day you may want to carry on downriver a little further to just past Wilton Bridge. The White Lion on the right hand bank just after the bridge will allow camping by arrangement, but also has rooms on offer too, and makes a great place to stay overnight.

Ross On Wye to Symonds Yat
Canoeing & Kayaking at the Yat Raspid Symonds Yat River Wye
Distance: 15-miles
Time: One day (4-5hours)
Get in at the rowing club by the Riverside Inn or there is parking in a lay by near Wilton Bridge and the river can be accessed easily from here. This for us is the quintessential section of the Wye and as it flows through the steep sided wooded valley as it nears Symonds Yat it is simply breathtakingly beautiful. It is also the most popular section with canoe hire customers, so if you are planning on visiting in the summer months be prepared to share the river with a lot of other people. If you want a quieter trip then winter and autumn are also lovely times of year for a trip. Parking at the take out at Symonds Yat East can be limited at peak times and you will have to pay a fee. There is alternative parking, also for a fee, on the opposite bank at the caravan park just before the Ye Olde Ferrie Inn.

The river is slightly more challenging in this section with a few fast flowing sections and of course the fun of Symonds Yat Rapids at the end. Keep an eye out for Goodrich Castle, built in the 12th century, now a ruin, but still an impressive sight. Soon you’ll pass a three-arch stone bridge that carries the nearby road across the river. This is Kerne Bridge and a popular starting point for many trips and a good alternative if you want a shorter day on the water. There is a purpose built launching point on river left. There’s also a good pub a short stroll across the road should you need refreshment or a spot of lunch. The river has more of a wooded feel from here on in but still flows in meanders interspersed with the odd shallow and faster flowing section of water.

A shingle island in the middle of the river signals the approach of Lower Lydbrook and the popular Courtfield Arms. If you want to access the pub you need to make sure you head to the river left side of the island where you can easily get out. It’s not uncommon to see a flotilla of canoes and kayaks moored up here on a warm day with the surrounding grass covered in paddlers enjoying a relaxing beverage. The river flows fast on the right of the island and it’s fun, but watch out for the trees towards the bottom.

Onwards you float passing Welsh Bicknor, its Youth Hostel and the neighboring church beside it, and not long after passing under the arches of a disused railway bridge. The valley sides start to get closer now as you paddle onwards in to the wonderful Wye Valley Gorge. The river now bends back round a right-hand bend, and you will now pass Collwell Rocks well known amongst bird watchers as a nesting place of Peregrine falcons, you’ll also see now on your left, high above you, the famous Symonds Yat Rock an impressive natural landmark of the area. Take your time on this section and it’s well worth hopping out for a tea break and to take a few pictures.
An iron road bridge signals that the end of your journey is not far off. This is Huntsham Bridge, which links Symonds Yat East and West by road.

As you get closer you will see the houses of Symonds Yat West appearing on the valley side. All to soon you’ll reach the caravan site or Ye Olde Ferrie Inn and your river trips end if you’ve opted to park there. If, however, you’ve parked on the Symonds Yat East side than continue down until you reach the steep concrete steps on river left. With both options if your trip is ending at Symonds Yat then you may want to continue downstream a short while and then take on the fun challenge of Yat Rapids to the right of the central island. Once you’ve arrived at the bottom, one way or another, it’s easy to then carry your boat back up the island before hopping back in on to the flat water above and then paddling back upstream to your chosen take out.

Symonds Yat to Monmouth
Yat Rock viewed from a canoe on the River Wye near Symonds Yat
Distance 8-miles
Time: One day (2.5 hours)
This is one trip that starts with a splash as you negotiate the famous Symonds Yat Rapids. The rapids and the island next to it is now owned by the British Canoe Union and it has undertaken renovation work to repair and prevent erosion to the site. The rapids run at about grade 2, so present a real challenge for those that have limited experience. If you’ve done a fair bit of paddling however you’ll find them a great deal of fun indeed.

As the excitement of the ‘Yat’ subsides you’ll pass a suspended iron foot bridge linking the walk from Symonds Yat East to Biblins campsite on the west side of the river. Past this spot the river carves it’s way through carboniferous limestone and past the spectacular Seven Sisters Rocks. It’s a section of river that is rich in things to see and explore, brilliant if you’re doing the trip with kids. There are a number or caves on the right hand side of the river including King Arthur’s Cave It was occupied by man during the upper Palaeolithic period and possibly even prior to that. Flint tools and the bones of woolly mammoth have been found within and around the caves, but these days, bats, spiders and other small furry animals, also including the odd canoeist or two, occupy the caverns!

Taking out in Monmouth can be a bit tricky; it’s best to use the second set of steps on the right. The first set belongs to the rowing club and the steps on the left before the bridge Monmouth School. Both are private access only.

Canoe Hire & Courses on the River Wye
Hiring canoes and kayaks on the River Wye is very popular
There are an increasing number of operators hiring canoes and kayaks and running guided trips and courses on the Wye. Hiring a boat and equipment is a great idea if you have some experience as it means there’s no need to load the car up with all that kit and the hire companies usually take care of the shuttle for you too. All reputable companies will issue you with a buoyancy aid, sounds daft but wear it! You’d be surprised how many people we’ve seen using them as seat pads instead. If you’re going to be running the rapids you’ll need a helmet too.

Guided trips are excellent. Most guides will give you useful tips on how to paddle your boat correctly and are a mine of useful and interesting information about the area.

A good alternative to having to have two vehicles is to take a bike along with you as an alternative, and greener shuttle. It’s fairly easy to cycle the sections on all of the above. Another hot tip is that Local taxi firm Kenny’s Taxis is run by a keen paddler and will do a pick up and drop off service on request.

River Wye Guide
The Environment Agency produced a great printed guide to the river called ‘A Canoeists Guide to The River Wye’. It’s well worth tracking down a copy

Check out the Canoe & Kayak Places to Paddle section for more great canoeing & kayaking touring trips HERE

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